The search for love and the outlandish methods we employ in the hunt for that special someone has long resulted in a myriad of hilarious, embarrassing and downright cringeworthy stories. So it’s more than understandable to see how the tedious, unfruitful swiping through supposedly suitable algorithmically matched candidates could prompt you to throw caution to the wind and instead dive straight in at the deep end. London based writer/director Sam Baron – who also wrote and starred in the Chloë Wicks directed evisceration of modern masculinity Fragile Package – fully lent into that thought and brought together some of the brightest talents from the UK acting pool for fish out of water short The Orgy. The story of a heartbroken man who attends his first orgy, it’s a comedy whose outrageously toe-curling premise belies its very relatable heart of desperately seeking connection wherever you can. It’s also funny as hell, which is why we were keen to catch up with Baron to chat about conveying the mundanity of sex parties and the ironic lack of “wiggle room” he had available for filming such provocative content.

What was the jumping-off point for this?

I’m great friends with Tilly Coulson, the producer, and we were keen to make a short film together. I’d made lots of micro-budget shorts before, but I didn’t feel like I’d yet made my ‘calling card’ short. Tilly and I wanted to make something bold, and we were drawn to the idea of a love story with a twist, but we didn’t know what that twist could be. Then one day, I was hungover and went for a walk to clear my head. I’d been taking improv classes and was interested in the opening lines of improv shows which aim to rapidly communicate “who, what and where” to the audience. The line “Hi, I’m here for the orgy” came to me, and I was struck by how much it promised – who wouldn’t want to keep watching after a line like that?

I immediately saw the potential for a tragicomedy about the mundanity of orgies, feeling like an outsider, and looking for love in the wrong place. I’d always wanted to make a comedy about feeling like you don’t belong – the feeling you get when you start a new job, or a new school, or walk into a party and don’t know anyone. An orgy seemed like the ultimate version of that. The expectations are so high, and the potential for embarrassment is so huge – the tension would be unbearable.

So I went and sat in a random Burger King and quickly wrote a first draft of the script on my phone, improvising both parts in each scene as if it were a live show, trying to “Yes and…” to add story or reveal character with each new line. I had no idea where it was going, so I just tried to “follow the fun” and not second-guess myself. When it was done, I left Burger King and sent it to Tilly with a disclaimer: if she didn’t want to make a film about an orgy, that was fair enough. Luckily, she did!

I immediately saw the potential for a tragicomedy about the mundanity of orgies, feeling like an outsider, and looking for love in the wrong place.

And how did things develop from that hastily written script?

Tilly is a brilliant script editor and she helped me to bring out extra layers of emotion and comedy in the next drafts. She also works for Working Title Films, so she had a relationship with the incredible casting director Lauren Evans, who became a key creative partner in bringing our orgy to life. Lauren helped us to get our amazing cast, a remarkable line-up of comedy stars anchored by Amit Shah in the lead. Amit has a terrific ability to say one thing aloud while letting us glimpse what he’s really feeling inside, and I knew the audience would fall in love with his vulnerability. We were beyond excited by all of our talented performers, and we wanted to honour the trust they were putting in us by making sure our production was up to scratch.

We didn’t have much of a budget at that point, but Tilly and I had both worked as assistants in the UK film industry for several years, so we knew a lot of wonderful people we could call on for favours. Every single person who joined our team was far more experienced than we deserved, but for some reason they were all willing to help us. I still don’t know why they did, but we made sure to thank them profusely and show our tremendous gratitude every step of the way. We soon became a tight little orgy family, which is not a phrase that should ever be uttered. I apologise.

After several intense weeks of production meetings, and lots of inspiring creative chats with our cast and HODs, the shoot was upon us. We were delighted to get some essential additional financing from Shore Scripts, who also came on board as executive producers alongside the fantastic Daniel-Konrad Cooper.

We had 3 days to shoot the short, which wasn’t really long enough, so we had to be very precise with our plan – perhaps ironically for a film about an orgy, there was no wiggle room. So together with our stellar cinematographer Catherine Goldschmidt, we decided against shooting traditional coverage, instead opting for limited setups which would allow us time to get the performances right. For the excruciating moments of awkwardness, that often meant trapping our characters in long unbroken shots without the relief of a cut. For the moments when our tragic hero is moving through the event, witnessing the proceedings and feeling disconnected from everything, we chose subjective shots which penetrated his polite façade and allowed us to feel his heart beating with yearning and insecurity. We knew that the more the audience cared about him, the funnier his discomfort would be.

What direction did you give your actors to fully capture those amazingly mundane, yet highly awkward moments?

I had a few things written on the cover page of my script which I kept repeating during the shoot: “Keep it real. Play it straight. Feel every moment. Trust your instincts.” I also kept reminding the actors to really listen to each other, and to approach every take as if it was the first time they’d ever done the scene. Beyond that, it was just little adjustments to clarify motivations or figure things out if there were any bits that weren’t feeling natural to them. I always want an actor to be able to follow their own instincts, so my job was just to give them anything they needed to get to that point where they could live it.

We also wanted the visuals to be richer and more cinematic than most comedies, so we created a look that felt soaked in sadness, to amp up the feeling of loneliness. It was also important to ground everything in a mundane realism – to relish the tiny details of ordinary life. It wasn’t meant to be a teenager’s fantasy of an orgy, we wanted it to feel awkward and confusing, full of different wavelengths and agendas. We decided to treat the sex like the monster in a horror film, keeping it off-screen as much as possible, to let the audience’s filthy imaginations fill in the blanks.

What was your set up for the shoot?

We shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini, which was perfect as I wanted to have a small camera so we could be nimble. I find creativity can suffer if the process of setting up each shot takes too long, so I like any gear which keeps things moving quickly. We used some vintage Hawk C-Series anamorphic lenses which gave a beautiful filmic quality to the shots and helped to evoke the emotional depth and the sense of loneliness we wanted.

We decided to treat the sex like the monster in a horror film, keeping it off-screen as much as possible.

The shoot went remarkably smoothly, given our limited budget and resources (again, a testament to our phenomenal cast and crew, who worked with such tireless passion to bring this ambitious project to life). I started editing the day after we wrapped, and within six weeks, we had a locked picture. We worked with my regular composer Roly Witherow on the score, and he brought his signature sense of humour and dedication to the task. I love working with Roly because he’s always up for trying things, and the process of discovery is always fun with him. We were also exceedingly lucky to have Company 3 donating their services to help us grade and finish the film, and Oscar-winning sound designer Glenn Freemantle overseeing our audio post-production at Pinewood Studios. Glenn even asked a few well-known actors who were there for other ADR sessions to contribute some orgasmic moans – we’re sworn to secrecy on the names, but we appreciate their efforts!

The Orgy screams of awkward British politeness, were you at all concerned that the cultural specificity of the comedy could hinder the film’s international reception?

We were curious as to whether the very British sensibility would translate internationally, but luckily there seems to be universal agreement that going to your first orgy would be an anxiety-provoking situation! Having said that, when the film screened at a festival in Germany, and the scene played where Amit Shah’s character freezes up at the invitation to kiss Alexandra Roach’s character, one German man behind me shouted out “What’s his problem?! Just kiss her!”

Once the film was completed our long festival run began. We were initially nervous that the risqué content might scare people away, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that all over the world, audiences seemed to connect to our strange little sex party. It’s been a wild ride, and we’re now excited to have released the film online, where we hope it’ll find an even wider audience – and in case any brave broadcasters are reading this, we do have a cracking TV adaptation ready to go…

Who are you working with for the TV adaptation?

We’ve been developing the TV series with Clerkenwell Films, who made The End Of The F**king World and many other excellent shows, and the next step is to find a broadcaster who shares our excitement and vision for the project!

What else have you got in the pipeline?

I’m currently developing my first feature and also original TV shows with DNA Films and New Pictures. Tilly is currently shooting two new Working Title films directed by Lena Dunham and Sally El Hosaini.

The Orgy is one of the many great projects shared with the DirectorsNotes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *